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Stu Ellis : Now What?

Jun 21, 2013

By Stu Ellis

What just happened on the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives?  For many, including some Members, the unthinkable happened when only 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats voted to support the House version of the Farm Bill. A blank was fired in 2012 when the product of the House Ag Committee was not even called for a vote.  Now, the leadership of the House fired a live round into its foot when the last few Democratic supporters were alienated just ahead of H.R. 1947 being called for a final vote.  Now what!?

Lots of finger pointing

The final vote count was 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats voting yes, while 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats were voting no on the omnibus agriculture and food policy designed to take effect in October and run through 2018.  Most of the Democrats voted against the bill because of the cuts made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  However, a few hung on until the last amendment was passed, which required SNAP recipients to work or look for work, and Rep. Collin Peterson said many of them withdrew their support of the bill at that point.  Peterson is the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Agriculture Committee, who tried to gather enough Democrats to support the bill, even after his own plan for dairy price supports was targeted for change by the vice chairman of the House Ag Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte.

When the final vote was tallied, Peterson and the other 23 Democratic supporters of the bill pointed to the SNAP amendment as a nail in the coffin.  But not all of the Republicans in the House voted for the bill, including Ag Committee Vice Chairman Goodlatte.  He and 61 other Republicans voted no, many of them contending the 3% cut to SNAP funding was insufficient and the overall $926 billion (10 year) cost of the legislation was too much.  One of the Republican supporters was Speaker John Boehner, who dislikes farm policy legislation, but publicly announced earlier in the week he would vote for the bill in an attempt to rally enough of his Republican colleagues to vote in favor.  The defeat can be seen as a blow to his leadership, and he had little to say after the vote.

What happens now?

House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says a new version of the Farm Bill will be forthcoming within days. But what would it look like, if Republicans want more cuts and Democrats want fewer cuts?  The Republican leadership will have the option of presenting a strictly Republican bill designed to get a majority vote just from their party, and pass the bill without any Democratic support.  While it is difficult to say what that bill would look like, the common denominator among Republicans will be reduced spending.  If that is the case, there would be fewer dollars allocated for nutrition programs, crop insurance, and other typical Farm Bill elements.  While it may be possible to pass such a pared down version in the House, it would have to be reconciled with the Senate, and such a philosophy would have an even lesser chance than did the bill that was defeated on Thursday.

If the House cannot pass a bill, or if a second House bill cannot be reconciled in a conference committee with the Senate, one alternative is another one year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill.  However, to the Republicans, that may be as distasteful as opting for no action and letting 1949 Permanent Agricultural Law take effect with its high parity prices for corn, wheat, milk and other commodities that are guaranteed to farmers.  It was the spectre of parity pricing for milk that spurred the Republican House to adopt a "fiscal cliff" version of agriculture policy and extend the 2008 Farm Bill through September 30. 2013.

Who takes the lead?

Will the House leadership take the lead on resurrecting something for consideration, or is that a function that Agricultural leadership should assume.  Many farm groups have worked hard the past several years in developing budget-cutting policies that still provide some degree of a farm safety net.  Their effort will have to continue because the trend of the amendments to the failed Farm Bill was to severely reduce spending for farm safety net programs, and limit the benefits of crop insurance programs.

An amendment came within 5 cross-over votes of passing that would have limited crop insurance premium subsidies to farm families with an adjusted gross income exceeding $250,000.  Another amendment was passed that would place a $50,000 limit per farm on crop insurance premium subsidies.  Such efforts to raise the premium costs for crop insurance will hit hard at many Cornbelt operations if they are included in any legislation that could become law.  The $50,000 subsidy cap would be 1,250 acres of a crop with a $25/acre crop insurance premium.  And the $250,000 AGI limit would hit many families with two incomes, in addition to farm income.

Absent in this Farm Bill initiative that was not as blatantly absent in past years was any coalition between agriculture and the supporters of nutrition programs.  Those supporters, primarily metropolitan Democrats, turned away from the Farm Bill Thursday, but agricultural organizations had little to say in favor of SNAP programs during the run-up to the vote.  An important alliance in the past that helped both sides achieve their goals was not part of the formula in trying to pass H.R. 1947.


It is back to square one for agriculture and the House Agriculture Committee after the U.S. House defeated the proposal for the 2013 Farm Bill.  Democrats withdrew support because of cuts to nutrition funding, and Republicans withdrew their support because not enough was cut from the budget.  Leaders have promised a new proposal soon, however, any bill that may try to get more Republican support in an effort to seek a majority will have more difficulty in being reconciled with the Senate’s Farm Bill

Source : farmgateblog